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LSB Proper 15A Sermon – Matthew 15:21-28

September 5, 2014

August 17, 2014 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“Behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, ‘Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.’ But He did not answer her a word.”

No matter where Jesus goes, He always encounters individuals who need His assistance. That shouldn’t surprise anyone who has heard and understood the Scriptures. They are clear that the reason for Jesus’ presence in the world was to bring deliverance and redemption. He is the world’s Creator present in the world to remedy the problems that plague the world. Or in other words: Jesus is in His creation in order to fix it.

That’s what is seen in Jesus’ life. The miracles that He performs reveal His identity as Emmanuel: “God with us.” He is with His people to help them. The first verses of the Old Testament Reading for today speaks to that matter: “Thus says the LORD: ‘Keep justice, and do righteousness, for soon My salvation will come, and My deliverance be revealed.’” That salvation and deliverance is what Jesus brings.

So Jesus goes to Tyre and Sidon as you heard in the Gospel Reading. And what does He find? A person in need of assistance: “Behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, ‘Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.’” And so what is the expected action? What do you anticipate Jesus doing? For those who may have forgotten the details of this incident in Jesus’ life, their thought would likely be: “And so Jesus cast out the demon.” Isn’t that what Jesus is there to do? The woman asked nicely. Her request correctly identified Jesus as the Lord and Messiah. She had come to the person who could do something about the situation.

But what did the Gospel Writer record about Jesus? “But He did not answer her a word.” Jesus hears the request that the Canaanite Woman makes, but He doesn’t respond. That doesn’t sound like the Jesus you have come to know. The Gospel Writer also notes that the woman didn’t just ask once: “And His disciples came and begged Him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she is crying out after us.’” When Jesus was silent, the woman wasn’t: she kept crying out for Him to do something for her daughter. And the disciples want to be rid of this Gentile woman and her constant asking.

So Jesus answers His disciples about this woman and her incessant asking. And again, it doesn’t sound like the Jesus you have come to know: “He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.’” What is happening up there in Tyre and Sidon? Has Jesus declared that area to be a non-combat zone, where He has no ability to do anything against the forces of evil? No. But He is noting the reason why He was sent as the Messiah: to bring the wandering people of the LORD back to Himself. And that isn’t what this woman is.

Finally, the situation reaches a boiling point. In response to Jesus’ silence to her and His dismissive answer to His disciples, the Canaanite Woman goes even further in her request: “But she came and knelt before Him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’” She again makes reference to Jesus’ identity as the Lord. She couples that with the act of obeisance. She again puts her petition before Him. Surely this would be answered by Jesus’ act of healing. 

But the Gospel Writer tells us something different: “And He answered, ‘It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.’” Again, it doesn’t sound like the Jesus you have come to know. He indicates that it isn’t right for Him to help her. But then the woman doesn’t exactly sound like what you have come to know: “She said, ‘Yes, Lord, for even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’”

The woman’s response is critical. For it is rooted in Jesus’ identity as the Messiah as the Scriptures revealed it. Her response agrees with Jesus. She is a Gentile. She isn’t one of the lost sheep of Israel. She isn’t one of the children of Jacob to whom the chosen status, along with all the divine promises, was bestowed. But she is one of the people of whom the LORD had spoken, as you heard in the Old Testament Reading for today: “And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, to minister to Him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be His servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast My covenant—these I will bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on My altar; for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”

The Canaanite Woman may not be an Israelite. But she can receive the overflowing abundance of help and aid that the LORD brings. The LORD does not bring only enough power and ability to grant assistance to Israel. No, there is plenty to go around. Just as Jesus had fed the thousands and had baskets of bread remain, He has more than enough salvation, redemption, and restoration to give out. The Canaanite Woman doesn’t need “the children’s bread”—“the crumbs that fall” will be enough for her. And how does Jesus respond to that? “Jesus answered, ‘O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.” Jesus affirms what the woman has said. He acknowledges that she has believed correctly in Him and His work. She benefits from it.

This incident in Jesus’ life may seem foreign and strange. Jesus’ responses may not have sounded like what you have come to know about Him. But they revealed the truth about Jesus that you should come to know. Jesus has come to His creation to remedy its problems. He has come to bring salvation to all humanity. But none of this is a matter of right for the people being helped, whether they are Jew or Gentile. Salvation and deliverance and restoration are matters of divine mercy and grace. They are acts that the LORD performs for those who have no claims of deserving them. 

The LORD brings forgiveness to sinners; He brings life to those who are dead; He brings redemption to those who are enslaved. But all these plights were the result of His creatures rebelling against Him. What Jesus does “is not right”. But Jesus does not act according to justice. He does what is above and beyond the standard of being right. The LORD is superabundantly gracious and merciful. Paul alludes to this with his statement in the Epistle Reading: “For God has consigned all to disobedience, that He may have mercy on all.”

Having mercy on all is what was shown in the incident with the Canaanite Woman. Everything that Jesus said was correct. The woman had no claim on anything that Jesus could provide. But He does give it to her. His saving power, His loving-kindness and mercy, are extended to her. Jesus will fulfill all the promises made to the descendants of Jacob. But more will be done. There are so many crumbs falling from the table that none of the dogs go hungry.

You have benefited from this. Jesus has not done what is right for you. He has done what is gracious for you. He has sent out His blessings into the world, so that all nations could receive them. This fulfills the psalm that was spoken by the Israelites of old and that you prayed this morning: “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make His face shine upon us, that Your way may be known on earth, Your saving power among all nations.” 

But that fulfillment has changed things even more. Jesus no longer makes any response like He did to the Canaanite Woman: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Instead, He makes people of all nationalities to be in the divine household. There is no more distinction between Jew and Gentile. There is no more talk about crumbs falling to dogs being the only way that graciousness and mercy are shown. Instead, the graciousness and mercy is provided as Jesus’ work starts making people the children of God, so that they may eat the bread that was meant for them.

Jesus is still present in this world. He is located everywhere that His gospel is spoken. That allows Him to interact with countless numbers of people who need His assistance. He has encountered you and your need for forgiveness, life, and salvation. If a crumb from the Master’s table would fall down, it would be enough to answer your need. But Jesus doesn’t only provide that for you. No, He has granted sonship to you. He gives you a place at the table. He sets the bread of heaven in front of you and invites to eat. Over and over again this happens for you.

This puts the matter in right perspective. For all of you need to remember that the LORD’s gracious actions were not a matter of right. They are a matter of privilege. Jesus extends the privilege to you. And there is no proper response to this other than sheer gratitude. That would be right, even if Jesus only gave you the crumbs. But since He has given the whole loaf, the entirety of His body offered in death for you, that response of gratitude is even more proper. That response is given in your worship and praise. 

But the response of gratitude is given another way: when the surplus of what you have received from Jesus become the crumbs and morsels that fall from your tables, when you act like He did for others. The spillover of what Jesus gives to you becomes what you give. This is the reason behind the various calls for offerings to support the Church, including the human care and mission efforts. Through them, the people whom you help are led to receive the full measure of what Jesus can bestow. Then the prophetic promise is fulfilled: “The Lord GOD, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares: ‘I will gather yet others to Him besides those already gathered.’”

This is what you prayed for in those psalm verses: “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make His face shine upon us, that Your way may be known on earth, Your saving power among all nations.” The LORD wishes to fulfill that prayer. It will be done, as He wills and as you now want: “Great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” 

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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